Told from the perspective of Kim Burkhart.
It was the weekend of Feb 10th 2008, our daughter Jenae was turning 17. Our older son, Ryan was home from Denver. We had all gone to church that Sunday morning. I was so happy to have all my children together in church and I was looking forward to a wonderful day with my kids celebrating Jenae’s 17th birthday. At the end of the church services we were to travel to Evansville to eat for Jenae’s birthday. On Monday, Ryan decided he needed to head back to Denver to take care of some business. I asked him not to go, something was telling me he shouldn’t leave. We never dreamed we would have to call and tell him he needed to get back quickly for his brother Travis. On Monday, the weather turned really bad. It began to snow, which turned to freezing rain and the temps were falling. Travis' return to school was postponed until Tuesday morning Feb 12, 2008. This ordinary Tuesday would quickly change Travis’ life forever. In fact it would change all of our lives forever.
I was at work when Travis called to tell me he was heading back to Evansville, IN around 11:30 a.m. I asked him not to go but he said “Mom I’ll be okay I'm 22 years old and this paper has to be turned in today”. Thirty minutes later I got the call. It was Mike, Travis’ dad. He was on his way to the Farm Show in Louisville, KY with a group of men. He said “Kimberly, Travis has been in a wreck and it doesn’t look good”. Sheriff Steve Cox had called for the state police to pick Mike up at the state line and bring him to Huntingburg, IN where Steve would take Mike on from there. Former Sheriff Jerry Harbstriet came to Odon, IN to pick me up. He first took me to Daviess Community Hospital and then on to Deaconess Hospital in Evansville. Words cannot begin to describe my feelings, fear, sadness, anxiouty and complete devastation. How could this happen? Did he have internal injuries or broken bones? Whatever it was we could fix it. But this journey wouldn’t be that easy. He had lost control in the freezing rain. He spun around, hit a truck and then spun around again and hit the ditch. Many rumors started flying around about which Burkhart boy had been in the wreck. Soon everyone learned it was Travis. So many of the people that worked the wreck and the ER were close personal friends of ours. None of them thought he would survive and they were deeply affected by this horrible tragedy. One of my lifelong friends, Tammy, was one of the paramedics that was on the scene first. She stayed with Travis the entire time telling him how mad his mom would if she let anything happen to him. I truly believe that all the familiar voices yelling his name and talking to him kept him here with us. Their love, care and personal interest was a driving force behind getting him to where he is today. Travis would later tell us an incredible story that someday he will tell to everyone else. My brother, Bob, was the first to get to the hospital to be with Travis and then soon after him several other family members began to arrive. By the time the police got me to Daviess Community Hospital, Travis was already in transport to Deaconess Hospital in Evansville by ambulance. They had wanted to transport him by helicopter to Indianapolis, but with the weather conditions made it impossible. Sheriff Steve Cox, had met Mike in Huntingburg, IN where a state police officier was waiting with Mike and took him on to Evansville, IN where all of our family eventually met to be with Travis.
The first time we saw Travis he was being brought off the elevator. There laid our son. He looked perfect, like he could just sit up and talk to us. Travis was 6’2” and 225 lbs. He was lifting weights 4-5 times a week for 2-3 hours at a time. He was in the strongest and best shape he had ever been in. How would we have ever known that God was preparing him for the fight of his life. The neuro-surgeon soon called us into a very tiny room to update us on Travis’ condition. He told us that he had suffered a severe closed head injury and a fracture of the C-2 in his neck. He told us he probably would not survive through the night and if he did he would spend the rest of his life in a nursing home. We refused to believe either of the choices we were given. Travis would live and he would come home. Within 3 days of being in ICU he had surgery to put in a trach and feeding tube to help him recover and gain strength. There were times when there were so many people (over the 2 weeks he was in ICU) with us they actually wanted to move us to a larger room. While in ICU Travis began “rolling his wrists”. This is a habit he had because of the weight lifting, his wrist would feel tight from all the strain of working out. I was so excited to see him doing that and I quickly pointed it out to a nurse. She politely told me it was only spasms, but I knew better. We would constantly talk to him and tell him the events of the day and everyone that had came to see him. My sister in law Ruthanne and I constantly rubbed his feet and hands to help relax him and let him know we were here with him. The hospital gave us a room where Mike, Ryan, Evan, Jenae and I slept so we could be close by. Mike and I went down to the ICU every two hours thru the night and were with him constantly during the day. He spent the first 2 weeks in ICU in a coma and then he was transferred to Select Specialty Hospital for the next 8 weeks to continue waking up. At Select he showed signs of problem solving, recognition and many more cognitive skills. I had prayed and prayed, the truth is I prayed nonstop, for some sign to let me know he was going to recover and be okay. I had asked God to give me that sign on Easter. On Easter Sunday Mike and Jenae told Travis goodnight and went into the hallway. I told him goodnight and that I loved him and then said our prayer. As I turned to leave, not yet getting my prayer answered, I heard Travis say Mom, Mom, Mom. It stopped me in my steps. I turned to see him looking at me and calling my name. This was the first time he had spoken since the wreck. The tears poured like rain that night in praise and thankfulness for my answered prayer at just the perfect time. God’s timing is always perfect. After spending the last two months at Select Specialty Hospital he then moved on to HealthSouth Rehab Hospital where he spent 11 weeks. But shortly after arriving at the rehab he developed bacterial pneumonia. He was then transported back to Deaconess Hospital where he would stay 2 weeks. He once again was fighting for his life. During the hospital stays he lost 64 pounds and was thinner and weaker than he had ever been in his life. He was then transferred back to Health South to begin his rehab. While at Health South issues caused his swallowing to become weak. One week he almost choked to death four different times in front of me. Those are images that are burned in my mind forever and I never want to see anyone experience such a traumatic event. Towards the end of his stay at HealthSouth Rehab Hospital they let us bring him home on the weekends. I remember his face when he saw the house for the first time. It was like “Wow” I’m home. At that point he had been away from home for 21 weeks. But then on the return to the Rehab Hospital his feelings of joy became sadness. We were south of Petersburg, IN and tears were streaming down his face. He was still unable to speak but his sadness was so evident, he didn’t need words. Then the day came to go home for good. So on July 26th, 2008 Travis came home! From that date until the present we have been in therapy in Evansville, IN, Chicago, IL, Bloomington, IN, Cincinnati, OH, and Indianapolis, IN. We are now 10 years into the toughest fight of Travis' and our family's lives. Travis has received therapy in the form of Speech, Physical, Occupational, Therapeutic Riding, and Hyperbaric Oxygen therapies. We have faith and hope that he will make a complete recovery. During the 6 months Travis was in the hospital he always had Mike, a close family friend or another family member with him, and I. He was never alone. But that left my other two children at home alone. Evan and Jenae were in their junior and senior years in high school. They gave up a lot so that Mike and I could be with Travis and I couldn’t have asked for better kids. They were so unselfish. Local police officers, friends and family made sure everything was taken care at home and that Evan and Jenae were safe. I don’t know what we would have done without everyone’s help. It took a huge worry off of our shoulder’s. We had our hands full with getting Travis better so we could get home.
During his stay in the various hospitals and even when we came home several prayer groups came and prayed over Travis for his healing. Area churches sent money and put Travis on their prayer lists, some still have him on there to this day. So many friends and family brought us food and money, the outpouring of love for us was incredible. We even had a man from our area who lives in Newburgh, IN, Dave, who would come every Sunday and give us our own private church service and communion while we were at Select and HealthSouth. A close friend of mine, Michele, took care of Travis’ dog and even brought him down to see Travis. Bruiser, Travis’ dog, knew exactly who his owner was even though Travis had only had him 2 weeks before the wreck.
There is no way you could count the tears I’ve cried and the prayers that I have said nonstop. And still they continue today. I don’t think I sleep, I fall asleep praying and wake in the morning praying. We continue to be positive and look towards the future that God has placed before us. It’s not easy, but we have to trust that He will bring us through this. Even though we don’t understand why things have happened this way, we know it is the way God wants it to be. One thing I do know, that this is a loving, caring and Godly community. God is using Travis to bring glory to His name through this journey. And each day we wake up is a blessing and we pray this will be the day that God has chosen to heal Travis. But we know that just because it didn’t happen today doesn’t mean it won’t happen tomorrow.
We have tried to be there for the other people who are beginning their journey down this road. To guide them, give them hope and a direction to go. We have been extremely blessed by so many who have helped in Travis’ journey through this tragic event. Many have prayed, gave money, watched over and fed our two other children who at the time were still in high school. The TBF events have grown into such a blessing to us and to several families in the area. We use the money raised to help others locally and in the surrounding communities.We are committed to helping others in times of crisis due to a sudden illness, injury or lifetime diagnosis that takes them away from home for an extended period of time for recovery or therapy. Currently we have helped around 100 families. We could not have come this far without everyone’s love, support and prayers.
Currently Travis is doing very well. He is working hard to regain his balance and coordination. And in time he will succeed in regaining both of them. The therapies/therapists have all but given up on him and locally we can only get maintenance therapy which is disappointing. Because I believe if he received the therapy he needs he could be even better! He rides his indoor recumbent bike over 60 miles a week and is walking on the treadmill 1 - 2 miles per day and working out on an elliptical. Wow, he continues to amaze me with his determination and strength. Travis continues to go to Anytime Fitness and work out with his trainer Joe McDonald. Joe has been amazing with Travis and has even got him involved in area weight lifting competitions. He has done very well and proudly displays several trophies that he has won competing. Travis recently told me that he misses driving and being with his friends the most. He is constantly looking for trucks that he hopes to buy one day. I told him that when he starts driving again I have to go with him and he has to wear a helmet (I was just joking) and he quickly let me know that wasn’t going to happen!
We, as a family, will remember everyone who stood by us and gave us unconditional love and support in our time of need. God bless each one of you and thank you so much for everything you have done for us!
Remember, Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.